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Curiosity needs OS upgrade before getting down to science

New software release on the way to wimpy martian computer

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Curiosity Mars mission The Curiosity Rover will upgrade its operating system before getting down to serious science, NASA said today.

The Rover's onboard computer has wimpy specs, boasting just:

  • A BAE RAD 750 single-board computer with a 200Mhz Power PC CPU;
  • Two gigabytes of flash memory;
  • 256 megabytes of DRAM;
  • 256 kilobytes of electrically erasable programmable read-only memory.

At a press conference today, NASA suggested the latter is about to get a workout, with panellists saying the Rover's flight computer needs an upgrade before it can start to perform sophisticated experiments.

Only once the upgrade has been delivered and successfully installed will the Rover start to move or operate its more complex instruments, and at this morning's press conference the new OS was mentioned as a major risk factor.

The vehicle, panellists said, has so far done everything right and all the riskiest moments went off without a hitch. The OS upgrade is the Rover's next critical milestone.

Getting that update to the Rover will take time, as it is yet to deploy its main antennae. For now, the vehicle has a 40 megabits per second connection to Earth, when it can get it. That's up from an initial data trickle of just five megabits.

The extra bandwidth has already been put to good use, with the video below assembled from 200+ stills gathered by the lander during its descent to the red planet beamed back for your viewing pleasure.

NASA expects the unfurling of Curiosity's antennae will mean higher-quality videos and images will soon start to arrive. Those artefacts will, over the first week or so of the Rover's mission, compete for bandwidth with the operating system update.

All of which makes a decision about whether or not to adopt Windows 8 seem pretty simple, doesn't it? ®

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